Tag Archives: Joan Huffman

Exploring legislators’ 2019 voting records on education: Part I

Last week on TeachtheVote.org, ATPE published a series of voting records for all Texas state lawmakers, analyzing their actions taken on significant education-related legislation. This blog post is Part I of a two-part feature on the record votes. Here, we’re taking a closer look at how the ATPE lobby team analyzed and chose the record votes that are featured on the legislators’ profiles.

Which bills are featured in the 2019 legislative voting records on Teach the Vote, and why were they chosen?

Without question, the most significant bill debated and ultimately passed by the 86th Texas Legislature this year was House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). This major school finance and public education reform bill, deemed the top priority of the session, resulted in $6.5 billion in increased funding for public education and $5 billion for property tax relief. ATPE’s lobbyists have written extensively about the omnibus bill here on our Teach the Vote blog, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also dedicated a set of online resources to helping Texans understand the many components of the bill. With its high profile, HB 3 figures prominently in the 2019 record votes compiled by ATPE. We’ve selected both the House’s and Senate’s votes on HB 3 on “third reading” as the first record vote featured in this year’s list for Teach the Vote.

There are also a few votes on floor amendments to HB 3 that made our list this year. On the House side, we’ve provided representatives’ votes on House Floor Amendment #15 to HB 3, which dealt with charter school transparency and efficiency. The amendment by Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), which passed and was incorporated into the House’s version of HB 3 but later stripped out by the Senate, requires charter schools to undergo an audit of their fiscal management. The Bailes amendment would have required such an audit to be conducted before a charter could expand or open new campuses, and it also called for charter schools to share the results of those audits publicly on their websites.

For senators, we similarly tracked their votes on three amendments to HB 3:

  • Senate Floor Amendment #8 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) attempted to remove from the Senate’s version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay program that ATPE and most of the education community opposed.
  • Senate Floor Amendment #30 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) also failed to pass but aimed to provide a guaranteed pay raise for all professional public school employees. While teacher pay was another high-profile issue debated throughout the 2019 legislative session, most discussions about pay raises at that point in the session had been limited to classroom teachers and librarians.
  • Also, Senate Floor Amendment #66 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) was an unsuccessful attempt to add language to the Senate’s version of HB 3 to ensure that state standardized tests were written at the appropriate grade level. Testing was also a subject of great importance to the education community during the legislative session, particularly after studies found that certain test questions on the STAAR test had been written at reading levels well above the grade level being tested. Although the Menendez floor amendment did not get approved by the Senate, another bill passed during the 2019 legislative session (HB 3906) requires a study of STAAR readability, and results of that study should be released beginning in December.

HB 3 ultimately included some additional funding for increasing educator compensation, but it was not the only bill pertaining to teacher pay that lawmakers debated in 2019. Early in the session, the Senate rallied behind Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) pledged would be one of the first bills passed by the full Senate in 2019. Although SB 3 was later rejected in favor of the alternative compensation-related language in HB 3, we’ve included the Senate’s third reading vote on SB 3 in our list of record votes due to its early significance.

ATPE also supported a stand-alone bill in 2019 that was designed to fund and strengthen mentoring programs for teachers. The House’s third reading vote on HB 102 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) made our list of record votes this year. HB 102 did not get heard in the Senate, but its language was later incorporated into HB 3.

Another piece of legislation related to educator quality produced one of the record votes published on Teach the Vote this year. The House voted to approve HB 1276 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) on third reading. HB 1276 was designed to prevent elementary grade students from being assigned for two consecutive school years to teachers who had less than one year of teaching experience or teachers who were not certified in the subject being taught as part of the foundation curriculum. Exceptions would have been provided under HB 1276 for new transfer students and for students whose parent or guardian consents to the non-compliant placement. Also, the bill would not have applied to school districts serving fewer than 5,000 students, those exempted under the District of Innovation (DOI) law, or those districts that received a hardship waiver from the commissioner of education. Unfortunately, this ATPE-supported bill did not get heard in the Senate.

School safety was another high priority issue debated during the 2019 legislative session. The key piece of legislation on keeping schools safe was SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), aimed at driving funding to implement school safety improvements and provide mental health resources. We’ve featured on our website the third reading vote taken on this bill in both the House and Senate chambers. Also on our list is the House’s treatment of House Floor Amendment #8 by Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) to SB 11, aimed at improving mental health support by requiring the state to identify regional resources that schools could use to address their students’ mental health needs. Legislators were considering a number of different measures pertaining to mental health resources in the context of the debate about school safety. Particularly in the House, some lawmakers were openly skeptical of efforts to link students with outside mental health professionals, worried about privacy concerns, and generally opposed to perceived government overreach. The controversy surrounding those issues had seemingly killed another high-priority bill aimed at addressing mental health earlier on the same evening that SB 11 was being debated. House leaders used Rep. Allison’s floor amendment as a vehicle for resurrecting the lost bill. Thus, Allison’s original amendment to SB 11 passed, was reconsidered, got amended to include language from the other mental health bill that had already been voted down, and then Floor Amendment #8 passed again. We provided data on both votes approving Floor Amendment #8 since there were some representatives who opted to change their position on the Allison amendment after it was expanded.

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) also garnered attention during the 2019 session and was an ATPE legislative priority. Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which increased the contribution rates for the TRS pension fund. ATPE included the third reading votes on this bill taken by both the House and Senate among our record votes compilation. The legislature’s passage of SB 12 resulted in immediate actuarial solvency for the fund, which made it possible for TRS to issue a one-time 13th check to retirees in Sept. 2019. Read more about the TRS bill here.

Another ATPE legislative priority for 2019 was opposing vouchers and stopping the privatization of public schools in any form. Few voucher bills were considered this session, but the full Senate did take a vote on Sen. Taylor’s SB 1455, which we included on our list of record votes. The bill would have expanded full-time virtual schools and created a “virtual voucher.” Despite passing the Senate, SB 1455 did not make it out of a committee on the House side.

The House also took a record vote on HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which is included on our list. That bill produced one of the most dramatic debates but did not garner enough votes to pass the House. HB 1133 would have weakened the existing 22:1 cap on elementary school class sizes by moving to a campus-wide, grade-level average. Many ATPE members reached out to their legislators in opposition to this bill, which would have allowed class sizes in the lower grades to dramatically expand.

Finally, there are a few record votes on our list this year that pertain to efforts to restrict legislative advocacy by school districts or dissuade educators from being politically active. One such bill was SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), which the Senate voted to approve on third reading but the House left pending in committee. ATPE staunchly opposed SB 1569, which would have restricted educators’ First Amendment rights to engage in political speech, limited their ability to teach students about elections, and unreasonably subjected educators to criminal penalties. Another troubling bill was SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), which tried to prohibit school districts and other local governmental entities from funding legislative advocacy efforts or paying membership dues to organizations that engage in legislative advocacy. SB 29 made our record votes list in two places. First, the Senate voted to approve the bill on third reading. Later, the House voted the bill down. Interestingly, the vote to defeat SB 29 on the House floor became even more significant after the legislative session ended, when certain Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill were seemingly targeted for retribution by their own party leadership in a taped discussion between House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and the head of the controversial dark money group, Empower Texans. The scandal resulted in Bonnen’s announcing that he would not seek re-election, opening the door for election of a new speaker when the 2021 legislative session convenes.

In any legislative session, there are limited votes taken on the record, offering relatively few options for us to showcase how individual legislators voted on education-related bills. However, we believe the votes listed above offer an informative glimpse into the treatment of public education by the 86th Texas Legislature, and we invite you to check out how your legislators voted by looking them up on our search page here on Teach the Vote. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for Part II of this blog feature where the ATPE lobbyists will explain more about the usefulness and limitations of record votes in general.

New School Year, New Laws: Retirement Benefits

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to the ethical and professional responsibilities of Texas public school educators. These included big changes to reporting requirements for non-certified employees and the creation of a “do-not-hire” registry. This week, we will shift gears to talk about educator pensions and retirement benefits, which also saw major changes as a result of the 2019 legislative session.

Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston): Increasing funds for TRS

SB 12 was the most important bill for improving the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) that was passed during the 86th legislative session. ATPE supported SB 12 because it infused enough additional funding into the TRS pension fund in order to make it “actuarially sound.” This also made possible the issuance of a 13th check of up to $2,000 to retirees last month. SB 12’s changes also make it more likely that the TRS will be able to offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in the next two to four years, which could provide a much-needed permanent increase in benefits to current and future retirees.

Actuarial soundness was achieved by gradually increasing the state, educator, and school district contributions to the fund over the next six years. Through these increased contributions, SB 12 lowered the time frame needed to pay off the unfunded liability of the TRS pension fund to reach an acceptable standard under state law. For those not familiar with pension lingo, unfunded liability refers to the amount by which the cost of future benefits that a fund is obligated to pay exceed the cash on hand in the fund, similar to carrying credit card debt. While SB 12 made great strides in supporting educators who rely on TRS, Texas remains 50th in the nation when it comes to the state’s contribution rate for educator retirement benefits. Moving forward, ATPE will continue to press the legislature to improve the retirement benefits that educators so greatly deserve.

House Bill (HB) 2820 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van): Deregulating 403(b) investment options

Under previous law, TRS kept a list of approved investment vendors that could offer educators 403(b) investment products. These 403(b) investment plans are similar to 401(k) plans in that they offer a tax-advantaged way to save for retirement, but 403(b) plans are designed for public employees and tax-exempt organizations, like churches and charities. HB 2820 deregulates 403(b) investment offerings by eliminating the TRS list of approved vendors, as well as the requirement that vendors abide by TRS’s caps on fees. These caps limited the amount that a vendor could charge for each transaction. Under this new law, educators who choose to invest in a 403(b) will have to more closely monitor the administrative fees they are being charged. Additionally, without the fee cap, vendors might offer investment products that are very expensive now.


Join us next week on our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series here on Teach the Vote as we will discuss legislative changes impacting charter school laws.

For more information on new laws impacting educators, be sure to read the new report from the ATPE Member Legal Services staff, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.”

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 15, 2019

Here’s your wrap-up of education highlights from another busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019

Members of the House Public Education committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony this Tuesday on House Bill 3 (HB 3), the House’s comprehensive school finance reform bill. Stakeholders from parents to teachers and even children on spring break testified about the $9 billion bill. Many witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing expressed support for the bill, but a number of them shared reservations about its move to roll funding for gifted and talented programs into the basic allotment and a proposed merit pay plan that the commissioner of education would oversee under HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood).

ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 stating that while the bill as filed has many positive qualities and would inject much-needed funding into the public education system, it also includes some troubling changes regarding the state’s minimum salary schedule and using teacher evaluations and student performance data for merit pay. Many witnesses, including ATPE, who expressed concerns about the merit pay plan noted that it would be difficult if not impossible for the commissioner to determine which teachers might receive merit pay under HB 3 without using data from student test scores, even though the bill itself does not specifically call for the use of the STAAR for this purpose. ATPE opposes the use of student performance data, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness for purposes of compensation, which ATPE shared with the committee during our testimony that was delivered by Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on Tuesday.

Currently, HB 3 is still pending in committee with a substitute version of the bill expected to be discussed next Tuesday, March 19. Read more about Tuesday’s school finance hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee reconvened to hear a host of other bills related to topics such as Districts of Innovation (DOI) and school start dates. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 1051, a bill that would make permanent the Goodwill Excel center permanent, a charter school offering a successful dropout recovery program for adult students. ATPE also supported HB 340 relating to full-day pre-k and HB 1276 relating to educator certification. More details on bills heard during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.

 


Earlier this week, the White House released the president’s 2020 budget proposal, which is little more than a statement of the president’s priorities given that Congress actually passes the federal budget. The proposal would cut billions from the Department of Education’s budget compared to what Congress previously enacted, while funding controversial programs such as school privatization and performance-based compensation. Read a more detailed analysis of the President’s budget proposal on our Teach the Vote blog here.

 


The Senate State Affairs Committee met Thursday morning to hear a number of bills. Among them was Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 12 would increase the TRS contribution rate and get the fund back to a point of actuarial soundness by the end of the biennium. In addition to the increased contribution rate, the bill would also fund a small 13th check of $500 for current TRS retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill. For more background on why TRS contribution increases are now needed, check out this previous blog post about actions taken by the TRS board of trustees in the summer of 2018.


Residents of the San Antonio area’s House District 125 elected Democrat Ray Lopez to represent them in the House in a special election held this Tuesday. Lopez, a former city council member will be serving in the seat vacated by current Bexar County Commissioner and former HD 125 state representative Justin Rodriguez. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Lopez and looks forward to working with him. This election was the last in a series of special elections meant to fill seats that were vacated after last fall’s elections. As we reported last week, Houston area residents of House District 145 last week elected Democrat Christina Morales to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyLast Friday evening the Senate released its version of a school finance reform proposal, Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). While the Senate has worked diligently to pass an across-the-board teacher pay raise bill this session (SB 3), its version of a more comprehensive school finance reform plan is a little less robust than its counterpart in the House. SB 4 includes provisions for outcomes-based funding and merit pay for classroom teachers. Read more information about the Senate bill in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 18, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Both the Texas House and Senate released their preliminary budget proposals for the 2020-21 biennium this week. A key feature of each chamber’s plan was how much more funding had been proposed for public education, likely resulting from the uptick in educator engagement at the polls last year and in policy discussions over the interim.

The House proposal for public education funding includes a 17.2 percent increase from general revenue, while the Senate’s proposal would increase funding from general revenue by 10.3 percent. The Senate Finance Committee has already released a full schedule of upcoming budget hearings, including one on Feb. 11 to discuss the public education portion of the budget. Expect similar hearings to be scheduled in the House once Speaker Dennis Bonnen releases a list of House committee assignments, likely later this month.

On Tuesday, Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) filed Senate Bill 3 (SB 3) relating to additional funding to school districts for classroom teacher salaries. The low bill number indicates that this is a high priority bill in the upper chamber. In short, both the House and Senate are trying to signal to the public that they’ve received the message loud and clear from voters: it’s time to properly fund public education. But don’t count your chickens before they hatch, as it’s important to remember that a filed bill does not a law make.

Now is the time for educators and community members to continue to press their point so that House and Senate budget negotiations will proceed with a sharp focus on the needs of Texas public schools. To keep abreast of what’s happening at the legislature on the budget, teacher pay bills, and other pieces of legislation, and to contact your legislators directly, visit our Advocacy Central page for ATPE members only.

For more on the House and Senate budget proposals that have been filed, read this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Also, check out last night’s episode of the Spectrum News program Capital Tonight featuring an interview with ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter discussing the proposals to increase public education funding this session.


The League of Women Voters (LWV) has created a survey designed to capture information about how Texas voters find information on voting and elections. LWV encourages users who take the 10-20 minute survey to think of it as a “scavenger hunt” where after being asked a few questions users will set out to hunt down information on the Texas Secretary of State’s website. More information about the scavenger hunt can be found here.


 Earlier today, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced who would be chairing each of 16 Senate committees this session. Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendship) will remain the chair of the Senate Education committee. Meanwhile, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) will be chair of the Senate State Affairs committee while Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Harris County) will chair the new Senate Property Tax Committee.

For a full list of all Senate committee members and chairs, read this blog post from earlier today.


Online registration for ATPE at the Capitol will close Thursday, Jan. 24, and ATPE members won’t want to miss this opportunity to get up close and personal to the action at this year’s legislative session. Funding for public education along with calls for increased educator compensation have emerged as issues at the forefront of this session. Now more than ever we need educators to visit the legislature and advocate for their profession. ATPE at the Capitol will be held on Feb. 24-25, with political involvement training taking place on Sunday, Feb. 24, and visits with House and Senate members happening on Feb. 25.

There is no registration fee for ATPE members to attend ATPE at the Capitol, and ATPE also has funds available to assist some local units and individual members defray their travel costs for attending the event. Incentive funds will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis upon a showing of demonstrated need and subject to certain eligibility criteria. The deadline to apply for travel incentives is also Jan. 24, 2019. Hotel rooms at the J.W. Marriott hotel, where the event will be held, are available for booking using the special link found on the event’s registration page. Hotel reservations must also be booked by Thursday’s deadline in order to take advantage of special discounted room rates.

We hope to see many ATPE members alongside our professional lobby team next month during ATPE at the Capitol!

 


 

12 Days of Voting: Payroll Deduction

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at payroll deduction.


Politicians like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) have led the effort for two sessions now to make it more difficult for educators to join professional associations such as ATPE by attempting to ban educators from voluntarily deducting membership dues from their paychecks. Gov. Greg Abbott added his support ahead of last year’s special session when he followed Patrick’s lead in deeming the issue a “priority.”

What’s more, the Republican Party of Texas has included payroll deduction legislation in its TOP 5 legislative priorities for the 2019 legislative session. That means Republican legislators will be facing enormous pressure from their party to spend the 86th Texas Legislature attacking teachers.

Proponents have marketed payroll deduction bills as an effort to keep the government from collecting “union dues” with taxpayer resources. The truth is that it isn’t about unions or taxpayer resources at all; it’s about educators.

Consider this: The major bills on this topic have explicitly singled out educators, regardless of union status — but exempted major unions representing other public employees. These bills would actually have a greater impact on NON-union professional associations such as ATPE, and they specifically protect other public employee professionals who are members of unions that collectively bargain. Collective bargaining is illegal for school employees, and no one in Texas is forced to join a union or pay union dues thanks to our right-to-work laws.That’s why the legislative efforts to make it harder for educators to spend their own money to voluntarily join a professional association are so misguided here in Texas.

Further evidence of the politically motivated nature of these bills is the fact that payroll deduction of professional dues does not cost the state or taxpayers anything. That’s a fact that authors of the bills were finally forced to concede during the 2017 legislative sessions but other politicians have continued to ignore. Payroll offices exist regardless of whether association membership dues is among the long list of optional deductions available to public employees. Those other deductions include things like taxes, insurance, newspapers, health clubs, and charitable donations. Furthermore, a school district can even charge associations a fee if it determines there is any additional cost associated with deducting dues for the group’s members. (See Texas Education Code, Section 22.001.)

During debate on the issue last year, bill author Sen. Joan Huffman said she was comfortable exempting certain public employees deemed “first responders” because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Educators — just like firefighters, police officers, and EMS professionals — are public servants and everyday heroes. In the wake of tragic news stories of the school shootings that have happened far too often, it is hard to imagine educators, many of whom took bullets or sheltered their students to protect them from gunfire, would be considered anything other than first responders who serve their communities with great honor and distinction.

The real goal behind discriminatory payroll deduction bills like these is to weaken the combined influence of educators (as well as public education supporters as a whole) at the Texas Capitol by attacking their ability to conveniently and safely support professional associations that fight to give teachers a seat at the table when it comes to setting public education policy.

There are elected officials and candidates who respect your profession, and there are those who don’t — and who are already attempting to weaken your voice. Bills aimed at demoralizing and silencing educators at the Capitol will certainly be filed again in 2019. If Texans don’t turn out in force during the 2018 elections and select more officeholders who value educators and respect their service, those bills will become law and more of the doors of government will be closed to educators.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Police, architects testify in Senate school safety hearing

The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security began its first hearing Monday with a moment of silence for the victims of school shootings. Chaired by Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the select committee was assigned by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick after Gov. Greg Abbott released a list of school safety proposals, many of which would require legislative action.

The select committee is composed of six Republicans and three Democrats, and is scheduled to meet Monday and Tuesday to discuss potential ways to prevent future school shootings like the one in Santa Fe, Texas. Monday’s agenda included considering testimony on the following:

“Improve the infrastructure and design of Texas schools to reduce security threats, and discuss various proposals to harden school facilities, including limiting access points, improving screening and detecting of weapons, retrofitting school facilities with improved locks, emergency alarm systems, and monitoring cameras.”

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath was the first witness invited to testify, and briefed members on steps the agency has taken to improve school safety. Morath noted that Santa Fe ISD was in fact one of 186 districts that received a special designation for going above and beyond school safety requirements. The commissioner added the agency has secured $62 million in additional federal funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which it is directing toward school safety. Morath noted that TEA lacks the authority to implement many of the governor’s proposals without specific instructions from the legislature. The state will also compete for a fraction of $75 million available through a nationally competitive grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown) discussed legislation he passed during the 2017 legislative session to provide training for school staff to identify students who may be experiencing or at risk of a mental health crisis. Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) expressed interest in this idea, albeit while expressing a concern that students’ private mental health records remain confidential. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) asked members to evaluate the current state of mental health services in Texas and consider whether adequate resources are in place.

Asked by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) whether the legislature should expand the agency’s authority to implement some of the governor’s proposals, Morath hesitated to offer an opinion. The commissioner ultimately stated that TEA is weak both in terms of capacity and regulatory authority when it comes to school safety. Morath testified TEA has only one quarter of one full-time equivalent staff member dedicated to school safety.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) suggested that local school boards are too fractious to make many school safety decisions, and suggested that TEA study the cost of implementing airport-style checkpoints in schools statewide.

The next invited witness was Christopher Huckabee, who chairs the Texas Society of Architects School Safety Workgroup. Huckabee explained how campus architecture has changed in response to school shootings going back to Columbine, such as efforts to push the public back from campus buildings and direct visitors through a single entrance. Huckabee testified that fire codes are very specific when it comes to having multiple entrances and exits for students and staff. He explained, “Even the best hardened campus are not perfect scenarios in this regard.” Chairman Taylor suggested that fire codes may need to be revisited, and the focus may need to shift away from fire safety. Sen. West asked about distinguishing between fire alarms and lockdown alarms, and Huckabee suggested schools could use an app to communicate emergency alerts via mobile devices.

Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) contended that implementing metal detectors is the only surefire way to prevent guns from being brought into schools in the first place. Huckabee stated the challenge to districts would primarily be one of resources, and warned students may still find ways to get around metal detectors. Chair Taylor pointed out that congestion resulting from metal detectors may create a new potential target in a large group of students awaiting entry.

San Antonio ISD Police Chief Joe Curiel led off a panel of law enforcement officers, and testified with regard to training and procedures currently in place. Chief Curiel mandated child crisis intervention training (CCIT) for all SAISD officers, which involves talking with students and building relationships in order to identify potential issues early on. Chief Curiel testified he believes identifying potential shooters is all about human intelligence.

Chair Taylor asked about the ability of law enforcement to track students’ social media accounts. Chief Curiel indicated that an officer is dedicated to assessing social media posts, but not necessarily monitoring all accounts.

Sen. Lucio asked Chief Curiel his position on whether teachers should carry guns, and how officers would respond if they encountered an armed teacher during an active shooting. Chief Curiel indicated he is neutral on the issue, but warned that “things could go wrong” if officers encountered someone who is armed when the shooter had not been identified yet. The chief also cautioned against viewing metal detectors as the sole solution, and repeated that human intelligence is the key.

“We can fortify our campuses all we want, but that does not guarantee a weapon will not be carried in,” said Chief Curiel.

Sen. Creighton pushed Chief Curiel for a firmer answer on whether adding armed teachers to the mix would save lives, providing that they were well-trained and potentially from a military or law enforcement background. Chief Curiel repeated his concern that responding officers, in particular those who don’t work at the school, would not immediately know the difference between the teacher and the active shooter.

“Having people armed within the campus would have to require a lot of training and the coordination effort that takes place when a situation like that takes place,” said Chief Curiel.

Pressed by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) to take a position on whether the potential of facing armed staff would be more of a deterrent than the baseline prohibition against firearms other than those carried by law enforcement officers, Chief Curiel stated that an individual who has determined to carry out a school shooting is not in a rational mental state and would likely make their decision without regard to district firearm policy. Chief Curiel emphasized that the department is neutral on the issue of arming teachers, and would adjust their policies and procedures to accommodate any decision the local board of trustees decides to take.

Midway ISD School Resource Officer Jeff Foley testified on the behalf of the Texas Association of School Resource Officers, and told members that programs to arm teachers, such as the school marshals program, may be beneficial to rural districts where law enforcement may not be able to quickly respond. On the other hand, he expressed concern over such programs in urban and suburban schools that have law enforcement personnel assigned to the campus.

Mike Matranga, Executive Director for Security and School Safety at Texas City ISD, said no school can be 100 percent secured. More importantly, he said, is addressing students’ mental health needs. Matranga indicated he believes the larger issue is one of weakening social values, a lack of personal responsibility and children lacking appropriate avenues to channel their frustration. Matranga suggested that many civilian school boards lack the expertise to make the most informed decisions regarding school security, and opined that hiring an additional police officer would be better than a school marshal. Matranga contended teachers play a different, albeit equally important, role.

“Our teachers are our first line of defense,” said Matranga, emphasizing the role of teachers in identifying kids who are having problems. Yet pointing to the state of school funding, Matranga acknowledged that the state is asking teachers to do more each year without adequate compensation.

Public testimony began with metal detector industry respresentatives. Their testimony focused on the real and perceived benefits of metal detectors, such as their potential to discourage potential criminals. One witness argued that x-ray machines are a larger cause of congestion than metal detectors, which can come in the form of either walkthrough units or handheld wands. The speed of detection can vary depending upon sensitivity and the procedure used for checking people who set off alerts.

The committee will meet again Tuesday morning to consider the following charge:

“Improve the infrastructure and design of Texas schools to reduce security threats, and discuss various proposals to harden school facilities, including limiting access points, improving screening and detecting of weapons, retrofitting school facilities with improved locks, emergency alarm systems, and monitoring cameras.”

Members will hear invited testimony on these topics, and members of the public will be limited to two minutes of testimony.

Why March 6 Matters: Payroll Deduction

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at payroll deduction.


Politicians like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and state Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) have led the effort for two sessions now to make it more difficult for educators to join professional associations such as ATPE by attempting to ban educators from voluntarily deducting membership dues from their paychecks. Gov. Greg Abbott added his support ahead of last year’s special session when he followed Patrick’s lead in deeming the issue a “priority.”

Proponents have marketed payroll deduction bills as an effort to keep the government from collecting “union dues” with taxpayer resources. The truth is that it isn’t about unions or taxpayer resources at all; it’s about educators.

Consider this: The major bills on this topic have explicitly singled out educators, regardless of union status — but exempted major unions representing other public employees. These bills would actually have a greater impact on NON-union professional associations such as ATPE, and they specifically protect other public employee professionals who are members of unions that collectively bargain. Collective bargaining is illegal for school employees, and no one in Texas is forced to join a union or pay union dues thanks to our right-to-work laws.That’s why the legislative efforts to make it harder for educators to spend their own money to voluntarily join a professional association are so misguided here in Texas.

Further evidence of the politically motivated nature of these bills is the fact that payroll deduction of professional dues does not cost the state or taxpayers anything. That’s a fact that authors of the bills were finally forced to concede during the 2017 legislative sessions but other politicians have continued to ignore. Payroll offices exist regardless of whether association membership dues is among the long list of optional deductions available to public employees. Those other deductions include things like taxes, insurance, newspapers, health clubs, and charitable donations. Furthermore, a school district can even charge associations a fee if it determines there is any additional cost associated with deducting dues for the group’s members. (See Texas Education Code, Section 22.001.)


During debate on the issue last year, bill author Sen. Joan Huffman said she was comfortable exempting certain public employees deemed “first responders” because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Educators — just like firefighters, police officers, and EMS professionals — are public servants and everyday heroes. In the wake of last week’s tragic news stories of the horrific violence that took place at a Florida high school, it is hard to imagine educators, many of whom took bullets or sheltered their students to protect them from the gunfire, would be considered anything other than first responders who serve their communities with great honor and distinction.

The real goal behind discriminatory payroll deduction bills like these is to weaken the combined influence of educators (as well as public education supporters as a whole) at the Texas Capitol by attacking their ability to conveniently and safely support professional associations that fight to ensure teachers have a seat at the table when it comes to setting public education policy at the state level.

There are elected officials and candidates who respect your profession, and there are those who don’t — and who are already attempting to weaken your voice. Bills like these aimed at silencing educators at the Capitol will certainly be filed again in 2019. If Texans don’t turn out in force during the 2018 elections and select more officeholders who value educators and respect their service, those bills will become law and more of the doors of government will be closed to educators.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on payroll deduction and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting in the primary and making informed choices at the polls. Keep in mind that it is illegal to use school district resources to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, but there is no prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 7, 2017

It was another big week at the Texas Capitol. Here’s the latest news from ATPE:


The Texas House passed its version of the general state budget bill in the early morning hours of April 7 after nearly 16 hours of lively debate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 provides for appropriations for state needs over the next two fiscal years. It also sends a strong message about attitudes in the House toward private school vouchers.

As approved unanimously by the Senate on March 28, the $106.3 billion bill provided for school enrollment growth and needs of the Foundation School Program, but did little to address the looming funding crisis for TRS-Care or add any additional support for public education to offset cuts from recent years. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), substituted its own language into the bill during a March 29 committee hearing, and then the House considered hundreds of additional amendments in yesterday’s floor debate.

Lobbyists at budget debate

ATPE Lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann, Mark Wiggins, and Monty Exter awaited the House’s budget vote Thursday night.

As finally passed, the House’s version of SB 1 creates a $218.2 billion budget, which includes tapping into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) to the tune of $2.5 billion to help address critical needs like an extra $500 million for retired educators’ rising healthcare costs. The final House vote on the bill was 131-16, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for accessing the rainy day funds.

Leading into yesterday’s floor debate, the House Calendars Committee had already adopted a “put and take” rule requiring that any amendment to the budget that proposed spending more money in one area must cut an equal or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. That rule resulted in several heated arguments among House members as representatives looked to raid each other’s favored programs for funding sources.

Voucher vote boardWithout question, though, the most dramatic votes of the night included multiple votes taken to prohibit the funding of private school vouchers. The House first considered Amendment #8 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) to prohibit the use of certain state funds provided to the Comptroller for private school vouchers. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) filed Amendment #9, an amendment to Herrero’s amendment, to ensure that the legislature could not spend any public funds on private school vouchers. ATPE supported both of these amendments, which the House passed overwhelmingly. Freshman Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) offered another amendment #10 to try to carve out an exception that would allow the legislature to fund vouchers for low-income families, but the House similarly rejected that measure by tabling the Cain amendment. View the unofficial vote breakdown for these amendments here. ATPE thanks all the legislators who voted to prevent the legislature from wasting taxpayer dollars on unregulated private and home schools and appreciates all the educators who took time to contact their legislators about these important votes.

The House budget votes this week spell disaster for the voucher legislation heavily favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. The primary voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), passed the Senate on March 30 by an 18 to 13 vote. Leaders in the House including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty had already expressed doubt that the voucher bill would survive after being sent to the lower chamber. Yesterday’s budget votes punctuate that sentiment, evidencing a clear lack of support for vouchers this session in the Texas House. For more on the significance of yesterday’s voucher-related budget votes, read this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills dealing with special education and also approved a bill aimed at improving the state’s much-criticized A-through-F accountability system for school campuses. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee unanimously passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 22 on Tuesday.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 11, with a lengthy agenda. Its Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, April 10, to consider several bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. ATPE will be there to weigh in on bills of interest, of course. Stay tuned for more details next week on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met this week. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the April 6 meeting and provided this report.

First, TRS investment managers shared news that the overall pension fund is performing considerably well despite economic uncertainty leading up to the 2016 elections. The fund is actuarially sound and has enough money to pay for its retirement benefit obligations until 2048.

The board meeting also addressed cyberattack prevention and defense measures being undertaken by the TRS staff. With cybersecurity threats dominating the news lately, TRS has been taking the necessary steps to secure members’ information by implementing safeguards that would prevent any cyberattackers from gaining access to the TRS system. Hackers are becoming bolder and using every method to gain access to vital information such as Social Security and bank information, but TRS staff along with security vendors are working to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals.

Finally, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided the board with a legislative update. Mr. Guthrie explained that he and his staff are tracking various bills and working closely with certain legislative offices on specific pieces of legislation that are of concern. One such bill is Senate Bill (SB) 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) that would reform TRS-Care. The bill sparked some discussion at Thursday’s board meeting because of sweeping changes it proposes, including the elimination of TRS-Care 1, 2, and 3. As it’s currently written, SB 788 would require a high-deductible plan for participants under the age of 65 and a Medicare Advantage plan for anyone eligible for Medicare.  Mr. Guthrie indicated that he would continue to work with the stakeholders to ensure that retirees feel a minimal impact, but agreed that something needed to be done this session because of the increasing healthcare costs.

ATPE members can find additional information about TRS bills being considered this session by logging into Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a blog update on this week’s work by the Senate Education Committee. Its deliberations included some controversial bills relating to home school students and charter school partnerships. Read more in Kate’s post here.

Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs heard SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) to address the growing problem of cyberbullying. ATPE supports the bill, which has been named David’s Law in memory of San Antonio teenager David Molak who tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied. The bill calls for tougher civil and criminal penalties for those who use electronic messaging to urge victims to commit suicide, and provides for prompt response and notifications when school officials learn about cyberbullying incidents.

 


 

Senate approves anti-educator SB 13 on party line vote

On Wednesday, March 29, the full Texas Senate took up Senate Bill (SB) 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) to prohibit educators and a few other groups of public employees from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. The ATPE-opposed bill prompted two hours of robust floor debate before senators voted to approve the bill on second reading by a party line vote of 20 to 11. ATPE thanks those senators who voted against SB 13 and especially those who spoke so eloquently on behalf of the education community during the debate.

SB13_vote_2nd_reading

Eight floor amendments were considered, but the only one added was by the bill’s author, Sen. Huffman, to allow school resource officers to continue to have their association and union dues deducted. As we reported Tuesday, representatives of the law enforcement community took to social media on the eve of the debate complaining that Sen. Huffman had misled them about all law enforcement personnel being exempted from SB 13. As passed out of the Senate State Affairs Committee, the bill would exempt most police, fire, and EMS personnel, but police officers employed by a school district would lose their dues deduction rights. Huffman, who chairs the State Affairs committee, corrected that by adding a floor amendment Wednesday to exempt school resources officers from SB 13, too.

Several Democratic senators filed floor amendments to try to exempt more public employees, such as educators and CPS workers, from the bill so that they could continue to take advantage of the convenience of payroll deduction. ATPE was mentioned several times during the debate, with some senators reading excerpts from a letter that ATPE had sent to all legislators opposing the bill and several references to ATPE members who testified during the committee’s Feb. 13 public hearing. However, Sen. Huffman objected to any expansion of the first responder exemptions in her bill and moved to table each of the amendments. Responding, for example, to an attempt by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) to exempt educators from the bill by characterizing them as “first responders,” too, Huffman continued to draw a distinction, arguing that teachers “don’t put their lives on the line” every day when going to work. All floor amendments except Huffman’s own were voted down on the same 20 to 11 party line vote.

TRTA_lobbydayIronically, the Senate’s vote on the anti-educator payroll deduction bill took place only hours after the Senate had recognized retired teachers who were sitting in the gallery and visiting the Capitol for their association’s lobby day yesterday. Many of the senators who spoke about their love for teachers and how much their own lives had been shaped by teachers in public schools were the same senators who only hours later voted for SB 13 in an obvious attempt to weaken the associations that advocate for teachers every day.

Asked about the political motives behind her bill, Sen. Huffman defended her love for teachers and claimed that “lobbyists” and the media were responsible for all of the misleading rhetoric against SB 13. She stated that she hoped educator associations like ATPE would find creative ways to work around the payroll deduction prohibition in the future to accommodate members who are unable to pay their dues in a lump sum or with a credit card or checking account debit. Pressed further by her Democratic colleagues to explain what the policy rationale was for SB 13, Sen. Huffman would merely say that the bill would address “inefficiencies” by getting the government out of the business of collecting dues. Most of the debate centered around Huffman’s controversial decision to exclude certain groups from the bill, apparently based on the nature of their political activities. The author of SB 13 stated multiple times that she was not comfortable allowing public employee groups that “harass employers” to benefit from payroll deduction, but she could not cite a specific example of such harassment.

ThinkstockPhotos-187006771-USCapWith SB 13 being approved on second reading, the Senate will still have to take another vote on the bill for final passage, which would send it next to the Texas House for its consideration. That Senate vote on third reading is likely to take place today, and a similar vote outcome is anticipated. The Senate is also planning to consider SB 3, the lieutenant governor’s high-priority private school voucher bill, on today’s calendar. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates and be sure to follow us on Twitter for real-time developments.

Senate signals intent to vote on divisive voucher and payroll deduction bills

Two bills staunchly opposed by the education community are likely to be heard by the full Texas Senate as early as Wednesday, March 29. The voucher bill, Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R-Houston) SB 13, which would eliminate educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their association dues, both landed on the Senate’s Intent Calendar this week. Under current Senate rules, three-fifths of the senators present must still vote to allow the bills to be debated.

No Vouchers No SB3SB 3 has been identified as one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s top three priorities for the 85th Legislature. It creates two forms of private school vouchers: a corporate tax credit for funding scholarships to private schools and an Education Savings Account (ESA) program that gives parents public funds to spend on their children’s home or private schooling expenses. ATPE members have long opposed all forms of vouchers for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that private and home schools are unregulated and would not have to account for how they spend those public tax dollars.

STOP2The payroll deduction bill, SB 13, is also on the lieutenant governor’s broader list of legislative priorities this session. Often referred to by its backers as a bill dealing with “union dues,” the bill primarily targets educators by taking away their right to deduct voluntary association dues payments from their paychecks. ATPE members make up one of the largest groups of public employees negatively affected by the bill, even though ATPE is not affiliated with any national labor unions, exists only in Texas, supports small business and the right to work, and opposes union-favored tactics such as collective bargaining, strikes, and work stoppages. SB 13 specifically carves out exceptions for police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers who use payroll deduction for their dues to associations and even unions that collectively bargain. Those distinctions between classes of public employees have angered many in the education community and even some lawmakers. Educators and other critics of the bill have also disputed false claims that “taxpayer resources” are being spent on the collection of union or association dues, since there is no evidence of any cost to taxpayers resulting from offering school employees the convenience of payroll deduction that is already used for a host of services, purchases, and donations.

Despite the growing opposition to SB 3 and SB 13, the House’s lack of appetite for wasting time on political battles, and the gaping holes in the logic behind these measures, Gov. Greg Abbott has voiced support for both of these pieces of anti-public education legislation.

Reports surfaced today that backers of the voucher bill are planning to introduce substitute language on the Senate floor that will reduce the bill’s hefty fiscal note and attempt to garner support from some rural Republican senators who have voiced concerns about SB 3. Even if the Senate advances the highly controversial bill, leaders in the House have called the voucher legislation “dead.”

Also today, members of the law enforcement community voiced complaints that the anti-educator SB 13 will similarly harm some members of the law enforcement community, too. On Twitter, an advocacy organization representing police officers said that they had been “publicly misled” about the bill’s impact, noting that it will also prevent thousands of school resource officers from deducting their dues payments:

 

ATPE’s positions on these and other bills are guided by the ATPE Legislative Program adopted by ATPE members every year. ATPE members believe that private school voucher legislation like SB 3 is an irresponsible waste of taxpayer resources. This is particularly true now, when public schools have struggled to recover from massive budget cuts in recent years, state appropriations have lagged, and local taxpayers have been forced to bear an unwieldy share of the funding burden for public education through property taxes while the state’s share of the funding has declined steadily. ATPE has opposed SB 13 and similar bills that would take away educators’ payroll deduction rights, especially when other public employees would continue to enjoy those rights. Allowing educators to deduct their association dues results in no additional cost to taxpayers, and the bills are widely regarded as politically motivated efforts to weaken educator associations and lessen their future influence over other types of education legislation, such as voucher bills.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE encourages educators to contact their senators about both SB 3 and SB 13, urging them to oppose these bills. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to find contact information for their lawmakers along with quick and easy tools for communicating with them.